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Fall 1997 · Vol. 26 No. 2 · pp. 93–94 

Book Review

The Ten Commandments and Christian Community

Jay W. Marshall. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1996. 128 pages.

Reviewed by David S. Faber

Jay Marshall’s goal in The Ten Commandments and Christian Community is to uncover “the life-giving principles” which lie behind the Ten Commandments. Marshall’s purpose is to show that those life-giving principles can provide the foundation for a stable Christian community.

Marshall, who holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament and Near Eastern Studies from Duke University, is Senior Pastor at New Castle, Indiana, First Friends. This is a pastoral book aimed at mature believers committed to being faithful disciples of Jesus.

The Ten Commandments and Christian Community consists of eleven chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue introduces the reader to the idea of a covenant community. A chapter is devoted to each of the Ten Commandments plus Jesus’ new commandment in John 13:34 to love one another. The epilogue reminds the reader of the importance of a stable community in a chaotic world. Within each chapter Marshall first examines what is prohibited by the commandment under discussion. Then he suggests a positive principle which he believes is the basis for the commandment. Each chapter also contains numerous examples illustrating the points he is making.

Some of Marshall’s claims are illuminating and challenging. For {94} instance, in discussing the third commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” Marshall suggests that this means disciples of Jesus should “. . . claim that God endorses only things you are certain God endorses.” In our era of increased Christian political involvement, this is a helpful reminder.

However, Marshall’s attempt to discover the principle behind the text results in two problems. First, while the biblical commandments have specific content to them, Marshall’s restatements too often give no direction about what a person should actually do; Marshall’s commandments become very general. For instance, Jesus’ new commandment to love one another is restated as “Love is an active verb.” Similarly, the fourth commandment, “Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” is restated as “Relax frequently in the divine presence, and let God rejuvenate your life.” The fifth commandment instructs us to honor our father and our mother. Marshall only tells us to “cultivate real relationships based on honesty and integrity.”

The second problem with Marshall’s project is akin to the problem associated with the search for the historical Jesus. What lies behind the text is often the contemporary (or the author’s) ideal. In this case, the principles that allegedly lie behind the Ten Commandments are often the truisms of popular psychology. For instance, the tenth commandment “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” is restated by Marshall as “You shall be content with who you are in God’s eyes.”

The Ten Commandments and Christian Community may provide some useful sermon material for pastors, but it is a disappointing volume because it is less challenging and less specific than the biblical material it purports to explain.

David S. Faber
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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